After doing battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) over the state's district maps, the Republican-controlled legislature channeled their inner Robert E. Lee, and proffered their total and unconditional surrender earlier this week. And the Governor didn't even have to lay siege to Petersburg. Anyhow, clearly prepared for the capitulation, he has already unveiled his planned congressional district map. DeSantis is calling the new map a "compromise," which is fair enough if you mean that it compromises the integrity of democracy. We are unfamiliar with any other meaning of compromise that might apply here, since the document is a one-man show, with Florida Republicans steamrolling Florida Democrats, and then the Governor steamrolling Florida Republicans.
Actually, we spoke too fast. There is one notable compromise that DeSantis' map brings to mind, namely the Three-fifths Compromise. The Republicans in the legislature were happy to engage in a fair bit of gerrymandering, but even they were leery of DeSantis' near-obsession with watering down the political power of Black voters. With the Governor's map in place, the Republicans would likely pick up four seats in the U.S. House, which would wipe out the gains Democrats have made thus far (sometimes, but not always, from their own gerrymandering). And this +4 would be achieved, in significant part, by dismantling two districts with a sizable percentage of Black residents, most obviously FL-05, which is 47.3% Black, and is currently represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D).
It is a certainty that DeSantis' map will be challenged in court by the Florida Democratic Party, and probably a bunch of other interested parties, as well. The plaintiffs will have a number of strong arguments to make. The first is that racial gerrymanders are supposed to be illegal; even the Roberts Court has said as much. The second is that Florida law is being violated here; the state's Fair Districts amendment says that minority communities are supposed to be given an opportunity to "elect representatives of their choice." And the third is that DeSantis should not have been given the power to impose maps by fiat, utterly usurping the prerogative of the legislature.
Will these arguments work? Well, they've been working in Ohio, where the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court just sent the Republican-drawn district maps back to the Republican-controlled legislature for a fourth time. However, DeSantis is counting on his own state Supreme Court to uphold his map, and to strike down the Fair Districts amendment in the process. He's also holding the conservative-dominated SCOTUS, and its general hostility to voting rights, in his back pocket as an insurance policy.
Presumably, we'll find out fairly soon if DeSantis is right in his assumptions. Given the time-sensitive nature of these matters, the courts tend to fast-track them. The Florida primary, assuming it's not postponed, is scheduled for July 25, which means time is running short. Indeed, DeSantis may be thinking that even if his loses this battle, he might be able to drag things out long enough to force the state to use these maps for at least one cycle, and that alone would make it all worthwhile. (Z)
Ron DeSantis actually had a busy day yesterday as he continues his crusade to... reverse half a century of jurisprudence? Get himself elected president? Inspire every Democrat to flee Florida? All of the above? In addition to peddling his new district map, he also signed the state's new anti-abortion bill that will, as of July 1, ban nearly all abortions after 15 weeks. That's not actually legal, at least as long as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are on the books, but as with the gerrymandered maps (see above), DeSantis is counting on right-wing judges to carry the day.
The new law speaks to the extent to which red-state politicians have thought about loopholes, and are working to close them. Under the new Florida law, a pregnancy can only be terminated in cases of severe fetal abnormality or danger to the life of the mother. However, it's not enough for one doctor to reach this conclusion; two of them have to sign off. This raises some questions that were apparently not of concern to DeSantis and his Republican colleagues. For example, what happens if a woman is in the midst of a crisis and one doctor says "yea" and the other says "nay"? Or what if it's 3:00 a.m. at the ER and there's only one physician available? That even happens in Los Angeles, a major urban center, on occasion. It surely must happen a lot in rural Florida.
A similar sort of rule has just taken effect in Kentucky, despite the veto of Gov. Andy Beshear (D). There, if a woman wants access to abortifacients, she has to be examined by a doctor, and then has to complete a "registration process." However, the specifics of that process have not been spelled out, much less actually implemented. It is therefore impossible to complete, and thus impossible to remain on the right side of the law. As a consequence, Kentucky's two remaining abortion clinics announced yesterday that they would suspend services until the legal wrangling is worked through.
It doesn't end there, either. In addition to making it very difficult to obtain a legal abortion in-state, the red states are working hard to close another obvious "loophole," namely traveling to a blue state to obtain the procedure (or abortifacients). Making the somewhat shaky legal claim that fetuses are citizens of the state in which they were conceived, and therefore are entitled to legal protection from that state, many red states are passing laws that would allow them to prosecute a woman if she secures an out-of-state abortion. "You may have been in Illinois, but you participated in the murder of a citizen of Kentucky" is the general idea.
We've written it many times, but if the federal courts let these things stand, they're opening up many barrels of worms, and there will be blue states that follow suit and adopt laws of their own on a whole variety of subjects. For example, what if California passes a law that says that anyone who obtains an abortion there is granted instant citizenship, and that any person who participates in arresting or incarcerating that person is guilty of false imprisonment and subject to criminal prosecution? Who knows if that would stick? What we do know is that we came up with that hypothetical in 2 minutes, and that the people who write actual laws are generally lawyers and have more than 2 minutes to spend, and so are likely to come up with something reasonably airtight.
And then there's the political calculus. Aggressively manipulating the system in service of a policy position that has only minority support, and that is not popular with younger voters in particular, is not usually a winner for a political party. It's certainly not a great platform for a presidential candidate, which DeSantis certainly fancies himself being. (Z)
Well, the question is no longer up for debate: The RNC is no longer up for debates. A bit over a month ago, the party muckety-mucks announced that if the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) did not make some big changes to how presidential debates are conducted, then Republican presidential candidates would no longer participate. The CPD can hardly send the message that if the parties say "jump," the Committee will ask "How high?" Further, the RNC's demands were entirely unreasonable, and essentially amounted to things like "Anyone to the left of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity can't be moderator, because that person would be too Democrat-friendly to be fair and impartial." So, the CPD told the RNC to pound sand, and the RNC responded yesterday by voting to ban future GOP participation in the CPD's "biased" presidential debates.
There's no way to know exactly what the RNC's game is here, but we'll give you three possibilities, and we suspect that at least one of them is on target. Option #1 is that the RNC expects Donald Trump to be its candidate in 2024 (although see below), and knows that the debates do not work to his advantage, since they highlight his lack of policy expertise and his less-than-appealing personality. And so, the RNC struck preemptively in order to provide him with cover for skipping the debates, and they may "rethink" things if they end up with a different candidate who is more in need of exposure and/or more suited to the debate format.
The second possibility is that the RNC has concluded that the current state of Republican politics—thin on policy positions, and thick on conspiratorial theories and unsupported assertions of "fact"—does not jibe well with the scrutiny that will come from both a moderator and a debate opponent. And so, as long as the GOP is the party of "stop the steal" and "the deep state is coming to get you" and "Black Lives Matter is trying to bring America down from within," it's probably better for Republican presidential candidates to limit their appearances to friendly media outlets and fawning rally crowds.
And finally, RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel did not say that all debates were off the table; at the moment, it's only CPD debates. So, perhaps the plan is to find some other entity to stage the debates—Fox, or the Federalist Society, or the Heritage Foundation, or the American Enterprise Institute. If the Democratic candidate agreed to participate on these terms (unlikely, though we could see Pete Buttigieg giving it a try), then they'd be doing so on hostile ground. And if the Democratic candidate refused to participate, the Republicans would lament their cowardice and would say "See? They won't show up unless the liberal media establishment is there to protect them."
We probably like theory #3 the best, but we'll see, and probably pretty soon. After all, it's April of 2022, which means the 2024 presidential cycle starts in, what, a week or two? (Z)
There was a time when Donald Trump would absolutely not make nice with anyone who had ever said a negative word about him. Indeed, he took delight in making such people suffer. Remember this?
In case you don't remember, that was when Mitt Romney, in his pre-Senate days, met with Trump so that he (Romney) might grovel in hopes of landing a plum job in the Cabinet, ideally the secretaryship of state. That plum job did not happen, of course; there was zero chance Trump would have appointed Romney as Secretary of Dogcatching, much less of State.
The former president has gotten over that sort of grudge-holding, as long as the guilty party utterly and without abandon prostrates themselves before him, ideally for many, many months. That is exactly what former Never Trumper and current Ohio U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance has been doing. And beyond the Never Trump stuff, which is now 6 years in the past, the Donald looks at the Hillbilly and sees much to like: populist, outsider, author of a book of dubious merit, pathologically dishonest, friend of Putin, etc. Heck, for the former president, it's practically like looking in a mirror.
Further, Trump wants everyone to know that his endorsement MATTERS. And so, he's pretty obviously hunting for ideal situations in which to get involved. And he has concluded (or his people have), that the ideal situation is: (1) a high profile race, (2) involving multiple Trumpy Republicans, (3) where none of them has been able to take command of the race, (4) and thus where Trump's endorsement could be the tipping point. That describes the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race, where Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz (R) earlier this week, and it describes the Ohio race, as well.
Given the state of things in the Buckeye State, and given Vance's selling points, it is therefore not much of a surprise that Trump is apparently on the cusp of bestowing his endorsement. In fact, there are reports that the press release was already written, and was on the cusp of being sent out.
There is one small problem, though: Vance is a pretty terrible candidate. From the perspective of non-Trumpers, he's doing poorly in polls, he has a habit of saying stupid things, and he's pretty transparently phony. From the perspective of Trumpers, he's a pretender, and he's most certainly not a True Believer™. Indeed, this could be Oz redux, with the base left howling mad that the Dear Leader gave his blessing to a mountebank. And so, Republicans in Ohio, along with people in Trump's orbit, are desperately trying to change the former president's mind, using polling numbers to try to make the case that Vance is a probable loser, and that he could bring down Trump's batting average.
We'll see if it works; Trump doesn't like to be told what to do, and he enjoys his reputation as a "maverick." Further, there are the selling points, from Trump's point of view, that we outline above. That said, yet another endorsement has just turned sour, as the Trump-backed Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster (R) has just been accused of sexual misconduct by 8 women, and is under pressure to drop out of the race. So, perhaps that will give the former president pause. On the other hand, maybe he'll say "only 8?" and won't give the matter another thought. You never know with him. (Z)
There's yet another Trump book coming out. This one is titled This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future, and is written by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. The dust jacket characterizes the volume as: "The shocking, definitive account of the 2020 election and the first year of the Biden presidency by two New York Times reporters, exposing the deep fissures within both parties as the country approaches a political breaking point."
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You gotta get people interested in the book, and there's certainly a market out there for "the country is failing" porn. In short, most of the book is same old, same old. But Martin and Burns do make one argument that is interesting and potentially important, and that has flown somewhat under the radar, even though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been making it since last December. And that argument is that Trump doesn't really think he won the 2020 election, per se, he just cannot bear to accept being a loser. So, scapegoating Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) and a plethora of others allows the former president to make them the losers, and not him.
If this is on target, then it strongly suggests Trump won't run again, since he would be at risk of losing to nearly any Democrat, and since his ego might shatter if he had to try to wave away a second loss. To that end, he seems to be hinting more regularly that he might not run in 2024. For example, in a recent interview with The Washington Post, which apparently isn't "fake news" anymore, he said that he sure as shootin' wants to run, but that he just can't be sure that his health, while currently excellent (and presumably also stupendous, fantastic, amazing to a bigly degree, and the best of any ex-president ever), will hold up.
Anyhow, he's probably got another year or so to dither, but eventually he's going to have to put up or shut up. And "shut up" time, when and if it comes, could be less painful if he's been laying the groundwork for over a year. So, it's worth keeping an eye out for further hints like this. (Z)
After the killing of George Floyd, Democrats were talking about defunding the police and possibly even disbanding the police. Now with the midterms in sight, Joe Biden and many other Democrats have done a 180 and are talking up their support for law enforcement. Mayors in deep blue cities are talking about hiring hundreds of new cops. Most (but not all) Democrats have gotten the message that "tough on crime" sells better than "soft on crime." The Republicans are going to say the Democrats are soft on crime no matter what the blue team does, but the more concrete and aggressive the Democrats' actions are, the better they can rebut the attacks.
Maurice Mitchell, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, acknowledged this when he recently said: "Historically, whenever there's been large social movements, at some point after that you experience some form of backlash. And we're in the midst of that." There is a good reason that Democrats are running from "defund the police" rather than running on it: There was a referendum on reforming the police in Minneapolis and it lost. If that sort of thing can't win at ground zero, it probably can't win anywhere. Democratic politicians have taken note.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams (D), a former cop himself, is emulating Rudy Giuliani in his pro-police administration. And nobody is really surprised, since that is what he ran on. State Democrats are also busy rolling back bail reform. In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) wants to hire hundreds of new cops and the city council is on board. Former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell said: "Go to North Philadelphia, where 99% of the people are African American and ask them what they think of defunding the police. You wouldn't find 10 people who are in favor." In heavily Democratic Los Angeles, at a debate, the candidates for mayor were arguing about who would do the most to enhance public safety. In fact, although he's a Republican, Rick Caruso has pulled even with Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) in polls of the race; his campaign is based almost entirely on his support for hiring more police.
These politicians can all read the polls and multiple polls for many months all show that large majorities want more policing, not less. Many Democratic operatives are afraid that the damage the "defund the police" crowd has done may be impossible to repair before the midterms and probably not even before 2024. It gives Republicans a short and easy-to-remember way to tar all Democrats and it may stick, no matter how hard Democrats try to embrace the police now. (V)
This news story is based entirely on hearsay from (multiple) sources who did not want to be identified by name. However, The San Francisco Chronicle believed that hearsay enough to run with it, and it passes the smell test for us as well. And so, we will pass along the very sad allegations that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has suffered dramatic cognitive decline in the past few months, and is no longer capable of doing her job, day-in and day-out.
Consider, for example, this assessment from an unnamed colleague in Congress:
I have worked with her for a long time and long enough to know what she was like just a few years ago: always in command, always in charge, on top of the details, basically couldn't resist a conversation where she was driving some bill or some idea. All of that is gone. She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago, and that's why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was just no trace of that.
Reportedly, the Senator is her old self on some days, and is hopelessly compromised on others, which is certainly consistent with the pathology of dementia and many other such diseases. Her colleagues have apparently gotten into the habit of working with her office staff in order to take care of business.
The Chronicle talked directly to Feinstein, and she said that there's nothing wrong, and that she's definitely not stepping down. If she sticks with that, there is probably nothing the Senate can do. There have been several occasions when a member of Congress would not or could not yield to their incapacity, and thus kept their seat. That includes, for example, Sen. Karl Mundt, who was absent for the last three years of his term after suffering a stroke, and Sen. Carter Glass, whose heart problems kept him from reporting for work for two years, until his death.
There have been occasional cases of a member becoming so badly compromised that their seat was eventually declared vacant. Such was the case with Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman, who had a stroke and lapsed into a coma from which doctors said (correctly) that she would not recover. After 5 months, her seat was deemed to be open, and a new representative (Steny Hoyer, D-MD, as chance would have it) was elected to take her place.
The Democrats are really, really hoping it doesn't come to that. First, it would be really, really ugly to end a distinguished party elder's career like that. Second, "no longer mentally competent" is considerably less clear-cut than "in a coma and unresponsive," and so the Spellman precedent might not work here. And third, members of both parties were willing to work together to resolve the Spellman situation back in the 1980s. But given the current state of politics, and the 50-50 split in the Senate, Mitch McConnell & Co. might like to have a seat that is occupied, but where the person filling it is incapable of voting. So, they might scream bloody murder if Democrats try to relieve Feinstein of her duties without her consent. (Z)
We've had a fair bit of fun at the expense of TRUTH Social, Donald Trump's disaster of a social media platform that's in a race with, well, half a dozen other Trump-owned businesses to see which one will go under first. But this is hardly the only media disaster of the year. In case you doubt it, we give you... CNN+.
CNN+ was launched 2 weeks ago, backed by even more money than TRUTH Social (north of $1 billion), and with the idea that if people like Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper reading the news, then they will just love hearing Tapper review mass-market paperback books, or Cooper talk about his garden. If you happen to follow CNN because you're interested in, oh, we don't know... the news, then there isn't all that much for you on CNN+. Certainly, a subscription does not give access to the content aired on the cable channel; you still have to pay for cable service if you want that.
The advent of streaming content has, of course, led to a proliferation of these sorts of entertainment products. And undoubtedly, there are plenty of people who feel they're getting good value for their money paying $10 a month or so for Netflix, or Hulu, or Disney+, or Discovery+, or HBO Max, or maybe all of the above. But a number of these streaming situations veer awfully close to shaking down fans for every last nickel, and so are exploitative in the same way that TRUTH Social is. To take a non-CNN+ example, if a person is a fan of a particular baseball team, and wants to have access to all 162 of the team's games, that now requires four different subscriptions (cable/satellite, MLB.tv, Peacock, and Apple TV), enough to set you back more than $500 over the course of the season. If the goal is to make baseball a niche sport for the well-to-do, like polo or golf, then MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is doing a heckuva job of making that happen.
Returning to CNN, recall that this is an outlet that doesn't actually attract all that many viewers. Like all cable news—even Fox, if we're considering that a news outlet—it's already something of a niche product, reaching less than 5% of the viewing public. And it turns out that "Jake Tapper dishes on the latest from John Grisham" or "Anderson Cooper shares tips on pruning your gladiolas" is far more niche than that, such that CNN+ has only attracted perhaps 10,000 regular users. Those are TRUTH Social-level numbers, and nowhere near enough to justify a $1 billion investment. So, just two weeks after the launch of CNN+, budget cuts and layoffs are coming. It's a shame that some folks are going to lose their jobs. However, when one of these giant media entities tries to squeeze their customers for even more money, but offers a mediocre product that leaves them with egg all over their (corporate) face? That certainly engenders some schadenfreude. (Z)
We screwed up on our Roman numerals, such that the last two entries were misnumbered. What can we say? We've been working VIII days a week recently. Anyhow, in the last matchups of this round:
The Others bracket now looks like this:
Here are the ballots for the Not-so-Elite Eight:
You've got until Monday, April 18, at noon to weigh in with your votes—and with your comments. (Z & V).